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How Social Proof Influences Consumer Purchasing Decisions

When looking for a product to purchase or a service company to hire, what do you first do?

If you’re like most consumers – 67%, according to a Moz article on reputation management – you would look at online reviews.

If the reviews are mostly negative, you move on to other choices where you rinse and repeat the review process until you find the “right” one. If most of the reviews are positive, you develop a positive feeling for the product, increasing the chances of you making a purchase.

This is a phenomenon called social proof.

Social proof, according to Hootsuite, “describes our natural human instinct to trust what we learn from the experience of others”. Social proof can come in the form of customer testimonials, online reviews, case studies, or trust seals.

The Growing Importance of Social Proof

In its 2015 Consumer Review Survey, BrightLocal unearthed the following statistics:

  • 92% of consumers read online reviews, up from 88% in 2014.
  • 40% of consumers only need to read one to three reviews to form an opinion about a product or service.
  • Consumers consider star rating as the foremost factor in judging a business.
  • For 68% of the 2,354 survey respondents, positive reviews make them trust a local business more.
  • Only 13% of consumers would consider doing business with a brand with 1- or 2-star ratings.

The survey also indicated that because of the growing importance of online reviews in consumers’ purchasing decisions, the proliferation of fake reviews is fast becoming a major concern.

Which leads us to the burning question: What makes social proof so influential to purchase decisions?

The Power of Electronic Word of Mouth

As consumers become more inclined to research about a product or service prior to a purchase, social proof is increasingly emerging as a go-to strategy to determine the trustworthiness of a product, service, or company.

Let’s take Apple, for example. Apple began with the Mac, their first revolutionary product. Apple then unveiled the iPod, which also became a huge trend on its own.

Then the company followed with the iPad, iPhone, MacBook, Apple apps, and further complementary goods that stood their ground, which sends the message that Apple, as an overall brand, is one that can be trusted when it comes to great design and quality – at least, if you look at the massive fanfare it always gets from its loyal consumers.

The Power of Engaging Storytelling

The power of social proof to influence purchase decisions also has a lot to do with the power of storytelling.

According to a PsyBlog article, transportation is the key to persuasion. When you successfully transport a reader into your narrative, if you can make them see through your eyes and experience what you have experienced, you can make them subtly forget that they are being pitched to and, on the other hand, make them relate to your point of view more.

Psychologists Melanie Green and Timothy Brock published a study to support the theory that engaging narratives can affect beliefs.

Their study also suggested that it doesn’t matter if the story is fiction or fact. The power of transportation and its corresponding effect on persuasion remains the same.

Should You Include a Social Proof Panel to Your Website?

Kissmetrics insists that you should to increase visitor confidence. And SumoMe presents several ways to use social proof, including:

  • Raw numbers
  • Expert and celebrity endorsements
  • Quotes and testimonials
  • Certifications
  • Referrals
  • Ratings and reviews
  • Proof of concept and case studies

More importantly, including a social proof panel to your website streamlines the user experience. They need not search for user reviews from other sites, whose authority and authenticity they have to verify separately.

Take for example the format used in most app stores. When searching for an app to download, you immediately see the app’s star rating, as well as the actual user reviews.

If you can find all these in the same window, you can either immediately move on with the purchase or search for a new app if the reviews aren’t to your liking.


So why should you install a social proof panel next to your product?

It’s simple, really. From the customer’s point of view, having all the information you need in the same window constitutes better user experience.

The key to successful persuasion is transportation, and this also means maintaining the absorbing storytelling experience by making sure your readers need not leave your page for any other purpose.